Friday, 29 July 2016

Child abuse allegations

have reached epidemic proportions in this state. The relevant authorities are also drowning under the siege of people attempting to report alleged incidents. Try phoning and you will be kept waiting.
Schools must report, so must doctors - and rightly so. And yes, there are times when other people should too. 
When I was teaching in special education I remember one of the children coming to school looking happy and telling everyone he had a chicken sandwich for lunch. His mother had told him that. All morning we all heard about the chicken sandwich. As the lunch his mother gave him was always a Vegemite (Marmite like) sandwich on dry bread the teacher aide was surprised but she did not question it. She was too pleased for him. 
Lunchtime came and she took out his lunchbox, opened up the sandwich ready to help him eat it - and discovered two slices of stale bread with a limp lettuce leaf in between. The child was devastated. I can still hear his wail of, "I don't want it. She promised!"
It isn't what people  usually think of as child abuse but of course his mother was abusing him. The social worker of the centre the school was housed in talked to her again after the sandwich incident but she denied having said and said it was "all the little b.... deserved" and that she didn't want him. 
I left to return to university soon after that and it was some time before I caught up with the news that his mother had sent him to school with a bag of clothing and simply walked out on him. When I caught up with him some years later he had not forgiven her. He admitted though that he was better off in state care. "I just wish they had done it sooner."
So I wondered when someone asked me if they could talk about a "problem" yesterday. I called in to the charity shop where she works and, out in the back room, she showed me several photographs she had taken on her phone of the children who live several doors away. There's a new "uncle" with the mother and this woman is concerned. The mother rents the property and appears to pay for it by offering certain services to men. The children are often outside in all weathers and don't appear to be very clean. They are always hungry and, against the rules, the eldest boy (who is around seven or eight) takes his little sister to school.  Lately the little girl has become very withdrawn and her brother more aggressive and protective of her. They have some unexplained bruising.
She wondered why the school has apparently not noticed this. "Should I talk to the school?"  their neighbour asked me, "I don't want to get anyone into trouble if everything is - well, all right."
I  told her I thought speaking to the school was a good idea. I have met the head of the junior school and I know she will listen. 
I wonder though what will be done. Will the relevant authorities do anything? They are so overloaded that "a few bruises", "a bit of dirt", and "always hungry" may not seem much to an over worked social worker. 
The problem is that , putting it all together, it is a problem. These children may get the equivalent of a chicken sandwich occasionally but it doesn't mean they are being adequately cared for. Perhaps their mother does love them and is caring for them in the only way she knows how but their welfare still has to come first.
This is why the system is over loaded with calls and demands. The woman who asked me if she would be doing the right thing looked relieved. She was intending to call in at the school that afternoon. I hope someone is listening. I think the head of the junior school will.

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